09 April 2014
Guest Post: Bringing Adventure Games to the Touch Generation
Brain&Brain is David and Brooke Condolora, a Bay Area husband-and-wife team with a deep love for storytelling and quiet adventure. Doggins, their first game, was programmed by David in Corona SDK, and was a nominee for the 2014 SXSW Gamer’s Voice Award and selected for the Indie MEGABOOTH at PAX East 2014.
Follow them @brain_and_brain.
“You and me are going to make a game.” “Okay!”
When my wife and I had that short exchange in April of 2012, we fully intended to make a small game over a week or two for pure fun. We could never have imagined the nearly two-year journey that followed, one which included being nominated for an award at the SXSW Gaming Expo, releasing our first commercial game, and being featured by Apple on the front page of the App Store.
Doggins, our first release as Brain&Brain, is a quiet iPad adventure game that follows a dreaming terrier’s battle of wits with a villainous monocled squirrel. While our mutual love of adventure games made it easy to decide what kind of game we were going to make, we didn’t want to simply take a genre we loved and squeeze it onto the iPad. If we were going to make an adventure game, we wanted it to push the genre forward by taking advantage of the touchscreen, while still thoughtfully respecting our audience.
Using Touch, Naturally
Touch screen devices are well-suited to adventure games, but we wanted to go a step further and integrate touch into the puzzles themselves, using it to create new puzzle experiences that go beyond typical item combinations and dialog trees.
The first puzzle designed with this in mind was a dresser inside the house at the start of the game. The dresser contains three drawers that can be manipulated to solve the puzzle by swiping them with your finger, sliding them in and out. If you tap the drawers, they bounce out and back in; this visual cue helps the player realize that the drawers can be swiped. This makes the puzzle more interactive, and also more about discovery than simply accomplishing a task.
After the dresser, we started integrating swipe gestures throughout the game. Players will pull cords, fold paper, stretch gum, and more. All of this makes Doggins more immersive, giving players a sense of direct control.
The inventory system also greatly benefitted from touch gestures. With a simple swipe from the right-hand side of the screen, the inventory slides into place, showing all of the items collected so far; they can then be dragged anywhere on screen. This helped keep the UI as minimal as possible, providing an unobstructed window into the world of Doggins.
Respecting Your Audience
Being an adventure game, Doggins is all about puzzles, and sometimes players are going to get stuck. But we decided early on that we didn’t want to hold the player’s hand and make the experience too easy; rather, we wanted to respect their intelligence and ability to figure things out. We want people playing Doggins to experience ‘a-ha!’ moments, those sudden realizations where the solution is finally discovered. After all, that’s why people love puzzles! If we make the game too willing to give hints, we’re actually robbing players of their sense of discovery and satisfaction.
At one point we had a tutorial system that would teach people how to play by displaying simple text prompts in the game world. One of these prompts told the player that they could sometimes swipe objects in order to interact with them, like the dresser. Eventually though this entire system was scrapped, and instead we chose to display an instruction card when you are first about to begin your adventure. The card tells you how to walk, open the inventory, and use items; that’s it. We thought it was really important to only tell people how to control the game, and not spoil their interactions with the world.
Ultimately, trusting and respecting our audience turned out to be successful. While it may sometimes take players a little time to understand what to do, the joy of discovery it gives is well worth it.
Dreaming of Adventure
Doggins has only been out for a short while, but already it has gone farther than we could have imagined. It has been amazingly rewarding to see people of all ages enjoying our little game that was born from a two-second exchange. We’ve been to the moon and back, and we can’t wait to see what further adventures the future holds!